Is Dilly a star pupil?

The other night we introduced Dilly to good friends who just returned to San Diego after some extensive travels. They seemed impressed by Dilly’s ability to Sit and Speak and Shake and respond to other commands. When I mentioned we would be going to puppy class Monday night, one of them asked me in an email, “Is Dilly a star pupil?” she wrote. “Do you feel he is ahead of where other of your puppies have been at five months?”

I pondered that question throughout the class yesterday evening, and what came to me is: it’s too hard to compare. Only four puppies participated in our session last night. One of them, Frida, is about Dilly’s age. But she broke her leg in a freak accident several weeks ago. She’s healed now, but she missed some training when she was healing, so it’s not fair to measure her performance against Dilly’s (except to note that she seems way more obsessed with toys than he is.)

The other two classmates were little ones, Wish and Chessie, both of whom must be about two months younger than Dilly. He’s thus more accomplished than them. But I can’t conclude he’s smarter. He’s had two more months to work on everything.

He was paying attention beautifully at this particular moment.

Steve and I find from one week to another that our dogs are more or less obedient. They go through developmental phases that change with disconcerting speed. Just a day or so ago, Dilly suddenly seemed to realize that when he’s outside and we call, “Here!” he can choose NOT to streak to us (and get a treat). If he happens to have a fallen hibiscus blossom in his mouth, he can prance AWAY from us; run in the opposite direction! Try to make US run after HIM to try and pry it from his jaws! (This is such a fun game!)

How long he’ll keep this up before returning to his instantly recallable former self we have no way of knowing. Could be tomorrow. Could be in six months. When I go further to try to compare Dilly’s overall intelligence level to all the other CCI puppies we’ve raised… it makes my head spin.

What I can say is that he seems at least as smart as them. In last night’s session, he blew the Wait command on the first try, but then he did executed it nicely. If he’d ignored our orders to come Here! out in the yard, he responded to them with alacrity in class. Our instructor, Kay, has a wondrous collection of dazzling dog toys, and she used several last night to command the participants’ attention.

This duck waddles along while emitting a wacky tune. Dilly seemed to find the sight of it even more stunning than the lovely young girl dog next to him. But both he and Wish just sat and stared.

Before class, Steve and I realized this would be Dilly’s final session of “puppy kindergarten.” He’ll be six months old in just 9 more days, and then it will be time to switch to the Basic instructional group. We chatted on the way home about how that would be a nice change of pace.

But this morning I got an email from the local puppy program manager announcing that “in an abundance of caution,” CCI is suspending puppy-raising classes until concerns about the COVID-19 virus have died down. Hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we’ll have to work on our lessons on our own.

How smart is Beverly?

She’s certainly pretty. She’s sweet and extraordinarily calm. But how smart is Beverly?

082416 Beverly
Surely this puppy is no dummy, right?

In the course of raising the 11 dogs that Steve and I have lived with over the past 39 years, we’ve given a lot of thought to the question of canine intelligence. We’re aware that golden and labrador retrievers regularly rank high on lists (like this one) of the smartest breeds. But that’s only mildly satisfying. Among the many things we’ve learned from raising CCI puppies is how dramatically individual dogs bred systematically from just those two breeds vary in personality.

Then there’s the question of what qualifies as canine intelligence. Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions, distinguishes between adaptive, instinctive, and working intelligence. His “instinctive intelligence,” for example, refers to inherited traits such as the instinct to herd. By that standard, none of our dogs has been particularly bright; put each one in a field with a bunch of sheep and they’d all probably cause an ovine riot. A few were mad-keen ball-chasers, but none would have been able to track a criminal by scent. The puppy who seemed most mentally agile — inventive and relentlessly active — was Dionne. But she drove us to distraction with all the ways she thought of to get into trouble (and she ultimately was released from Advanced Training after her trainer judged her energy level and distractibility to be “high” and her learning rate to be only “moderate.”)

About Beverly, we’re withholding judgment. She does things that baffle me. She’ll whine around 6 a.m. — suggesting that she thinks it’s time to rise and shine. But when I stumble to her kennel and open the door, she most often will just sit inside it, rather than bounding out as most puppies would. I sit down next to it and wait. Sooner or later, she emerges.

Or she’ll come halfway down a flight of stairs (in response to a summons from one of us.) And then she’ll sit down on one of the treads. And sit. And sit — ignoring our pleas for her to descend all the way and come to us. What is she thinking? we wonder.

082416 Beverly on the steps
What is going on within that noggin?!

I recently read a post on the blog, Daily Treat, that made me think of Beverly. Discussing the question, “Do you really want a smart dog?” the author commented that “dogs who are not engaged but lazy also can make great pets, as their motivation to do nothing appeals to many people. Low activity, low engagement equals not trainable, but easy to live with.”

I’m certainly not going to declare at this point that Beverly is not trainable. She’s performing respectably in puppy class. But she’s less active (lazier?) than any other puppy we’ve ever had.

082416 Beverly napping
She can nap for hour after hour. If the sun is on her belly, that’s even better.

That HAS made her seem easier to live with. I have mixed feelings about this. Smart is good, right?  But easy to live with also feels pretty awesome.


So smart. (Too smart?)

030515 out please
May I go out, please?

Of all the CCI puppies we’ve raised, we can’t remember any that were as good as Kyndall about communicating when she needs to go out. It’s as if someone gave her the Manual for Well-Behaved Puppies, and she actually read it. She sits in front of the closed door, looking expectant. If we don’t pay attention, she’ll give a little whine. If we’re still being dense, she may emit a quiet bark.

The fact that she has learned to do this doubtless contributes to the extreme rarity of her toileting errors in the house. She’s only four and a half months old, so we still try to take her out every hour or two. But when we forget, it’s great that she has a way of reminding us.

Only today did we begin to wonder if perhaps she has mastered this skill a little… too well. She’s spent a lot of the day with Tucker in Steve’s office, and she has asked to go out at least a half dozen times. Steve has obliged her, and some of the times she has peed or pooped in the yard. But several outings seemed to be instead an expression of her opinion that it would be more interesting to be outside in the sunshine, instead of resting quietly in the office. It would be even better if Steve would just release her from that leash and give her some alone time to commune with nature.

She’s basically a good girl, so we doubt that this will be a big problem. But it’s coming increasingly clear that she’s also a smart girl.